PHOTO: Former Jewish Review Photographer Bonnie/Basha Rothstein Brewer took this photograph of violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman performing with the Oregon Symphony circa 1993. This year, Jewish Disability Advocacy Month 2021 kicks off a month of virtual programs with a program featuring a conversation with the famed violinist, who overcame struggles as a polio survivor and Jewish émigré.
BY DEBORAH MOON
Jewish Disability Advocacy Month 2021 kicks off at 7 pm, Feb. 3, with “Our Time, Our Fight,” featuring world-renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman. The monthlong series of virtual programs will feature a wide variety of opportunities for empowerment, education and advocacy.
Jewish Federations of North America is bringing together partners from across the continent “to harness our collective power to break down barriers to opportunity and inclusion. Join us in helping advance policy that empowers individuals with disabilities to achieve maximum independence.”
Following three weeks of virtual educational and community-building experience, the month culminates in a week of action and advocacy. The official hashtag for the month is #JDAM.
Each week in February will feature programs centered around a theme: Week 1: Empowerment; Week 2: Breaking Barriers; Week 3: Creating Opportunity; and Week 4: Disability Rights are Civil Rights: Advocacy Week. To learn about the programs and to register, go to jewishtogether.org/jdam.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland and Jewish Family & Child Service are promoting the month on their social media feeds.
Portland has a long history of promoting inclusion of people with disabilities. In 1997, a group of parents and community members gathered to discuss the lack of support and Jewish opportunities for children with learning, developmental or physical differences. The next year, JFGP provided a grant to create TASK, the disabilities awareness program of JFCS. Treasuring, Accepting, Supporting Kehilla (community) has shifted from aiding families of children with special needs to supporting individuals of all ages and families coping with disabilities, and raising awareness of and inclusion of people with disabilities. TASK was instrumental in the 2013 creation of Kehillah Housing, apartments for adults with special needs.
Janet Menashe became TASK inclusion specialist in 2016 after the retirement of Corrine Spiegel, who led TASK for its first 18 years.
“JFCS is dedicated to supporting the disabled community, and we will soon be expanding our services to better include children and families,” says JFCS Executive Director Ruth Scott.
This month, TASK launched a support group for parents who have children and adults with disabilities. The second virtual meeting will be 7:30 pm, Jan. 27. To receive a link for the group, email Janet to register at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Often friends and family feel uncomfortable dealing with people who have special needs,” says Janet. “There are lots of people in the community with disabilities, and they want to be treated as anybody else is treated.”
Despite TASK’s long history in Portland, Janet says people with disabilities often feel “swept under the rug.” She notes adults with disabilities can have a hard time finding jobs. During the pandemic, the feeling of isolation has increased. And children with special needs are struggling with online school.
TASK helps individuals with disabilities and their families by:
• Providing family and individual consultations on disabilities and available resources
• Hosting trainings on critical topics – child development, communication, guardianship, conservatorship, job support, government benefits and teaching children with special needs
• Assisting youth, adults and their families in planning for transitions
• Engaging adults in our popular social-recreational group (Tikvah)
• Teaching people with disabilities how to advocate for themselves
• Offering an array of community information and referrals as the co-founder of the Interfaith Disabilities Network of Oregon.